Monday, May 13, 2013

Using IRS For Politics Is Always Wrong

The teabaggers and their right-wing allies have made numerous accusations against the Obama administration and the federal government, and almost all of them have turned out to be false (most of them spurred by a malicious and racist fear of the loss of white privilege in this country). I said "almost all" because it looks like there is one accusation that is true.

There are those in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who have been singling out teabagger groups for audits -- not because there is any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing, but just because they were deemed undesirable politically. The IRS has now apologized and claimed they didn't know it was happening, but there is evidence that IRS officials have had knowledge of the practice since sometime in 2011.

I have no love for the various teabagger groups. I consider them to be dangerous to the maintenance of a free democracy, because they have little regard for truth or ethical behavior. And I believe that honest and decent Americans must fight against these groups. But the place for that fight is at the ballot box and in the court of public opinion. It is never appropriate to use the power of any government agency for political purposes.

The actions of those in the IRS who participated in this targeting of teabagger groups were wrong -- and those who did the targeting, along with those who knew about it and did nothing to stop it, should be immediately terminated (and investigated to see what federal laws they may have broken).

This is not the first time the power of government has been used to punish political enemies. The Nixon administration was toppled for this very thing. It was wrong back then, and it is still wrong. It doesn't matter whether those actions are directed at left-wing groups or right-wing groups -- it is always wrong!

The agencies of the federal government should have the right to investigate groups on either side of the political spectrum, but only if there is probable cause to think a crime may have been committed. They should never be used to support or oppose the politics of any group. That is the job of voters, not the government.


  1. Um, no, not so well said. A few days ago I would have agreed. But the more I learn about this, the less of an OMIGOD! it becomes.

    First, these were not criminal investigations, they were investigations of applications for 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 tax-exempt status. Obtaining that status requires that the primary focus of the organization is social welfare. Only limited political activity is allowed.

    Second, there was no "targeting" of teabagger groups. The idea was that a group with "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in its name should get a closer look because that raised a reasonable possibility that they may well be engaged in political advocacy rather than social welfare and so be ineligible for 501(c)3 or 4 status.

    Third, "tea party" and "patriot" were not the only triggers for closer examination. CBS News reports that according to Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, only about 300 of the 3400 applications for 501(c)3 or 4 status in 2012 were given extra attention and only 1/4 of those involved "tea party" or "patriot."

    Finally, if this was an attempt "to punish political enemies," is was a damned inefficient one: Lerner says that 150 of the cases have been closed and while some groups withdrew their application, no group had its tax-exempt status revoked.

    In reality, the whole thing was an attempt by the IRS to find a way to deal with the soaring number of applications. The method they chose - or, more accurately, this part of the method they chose - was surely not the best. But to turn it into some conspiracy (directed by who?) to attack political opponents is nonsense.

    A buzzword of fairly recent vintage is "optics," the idea that what something is, is less important than what one side or another can make it appear to be. This is definitely a case of that.


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